death of the sociology of deviance? 979

that few sociologists want to teach courses on
deviance, that the subject is being eliminated
from sociologys curriculum. The field of
deviance studies died, she claims, because of
its relativistic stance; increasingly, she asserts,
Americans are rejecting the fields neutral,
amoral, relativistic cloak because it justifies
immoral behaviors that deserve to be stigma
tized and vilified. It is time, she says, to return
to common sense and natural law. In short,
it is time to redefine deviance as behavior that is
inherently, intrinsically, and objectively bad,
wrong, harmful, disruptive, and subversive,
rather than a mere social construction, as the
sociologists of deviance have claimed. Her
agenda, she says, is to engage in remoralizing
In a balanced argument, Joel Best (2004)
traces the trajectory of sociological studies
of deviance from the late 1950s into the 1990s.
He argues that the field has come to occupy an
insecure, even precarious, place in sociology.
His conclusion is that the sociology of deviance
no longer plays as prominent a role in sociol
ogys thinking as it once did. This is documen
ted by a decline in the citation count of articles
using the word deviance published in sociol
ogys three most prominent journals between
the 1970s and the 1990s. As Best points out,
the field of deviance may not be dead, but
neither does it seem to be thriving.
Goode (2003) found that just under two
thirds (16) of the sociology departments in the
25 leading US institutions of higher learning
offer a deviance course. Enrollment figures for
deviance courses in the 17 departments exam
ined were found to be as robust today as they
were in the 1970s. In short, Hendershotts
charges not endorsed by Best that no one
wants to teach the course, and that it is being
eliminated from sociologys curriculum, are
contradicted by the available evidence. While
Best (2004) dismisses the notion that under
graduate enrollments and textbook sales indi
cate the fields continued intellectual vitality,
Goode (1997) disagrees by demonstrating that
the major deviance textbooks generate a sub
stantial number of citations from the field as a
whole. This, according to Goode, indicates
their continued intellectual utility. A tabulation
of the more than 1,700 scholarly articles
located by the Social Science Citation Index
(19572004) that bore deviance or deviant
in their titles indicates that the 1980s was the
fields peak year for scholarly productivity, and
that the 1990s was more productive than the
1970s; expressed as a yearly average, the 2000s
(20003) were only slightly less productive than
the 1990s. Hence, the fields scholarly produc
tivity seems to be as strong as it was during a
decade (the 1970s) its critics claim was its peak
productive era.
Not one of these claims or tests compares
deviance with any other subfield of sociology;
it is possible that other subfields are no different
from deviance in this respect. Indeed, evidence
indicates that the field of sociology, taken as a
whole, is less conceptually and theoretically
innovative than it was in the past. Still, nearly
all indicators point to the fact that the produc
tivity, conceptual and theoretical creativity, and
influence of the sociology of deviance have
declined somewhat since the 1980s. It is possi
ble that the fields split from criminology is
responsible for this decline. However, to ade
quately test the hypothesis, the productivity and
vitality of other fields and sociology generally
would have to be compared with deviance to
determine whether the latter is exceptional in
this respect. By no measure, however, can the
sociology of deviance be said to be dead.
Evidence suggests that the charge is empirically
false and, in all likelihood, politically motivated,
energized, on both the political left and right, by
a dread of the fields foundational assumption:
social and cultural relativism.

SEE ALSO: Deviance; Deviance, Absolutist
Definitions of; Deviance, Theories of; Socio
cultural Relativism


Best, J. (2004) Deviance: Career of a Concept. Wads-
worth, Belmont, CA.
Goode, E. (1997) Some Thoughts on Textbooks in
the Sociology of Deviance. Newsletter of the Crime,
Law, and Deviance Division of the American Socio
logical Association (Spring): 1 4.
Goode, E. (2003) The MacGuffin That Refuses to
Die: An Investigation into the Condition of the
Sociology of Deviance. Deviant Behavior 24:
507 33.